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Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/11/2021 2:28 PM

"Nuclear power opponents often point to radioactive waste as one of their main concerns. However, most people don’t realize that problems associated with long-lived waste can actually be solved in an economic way with technology that’s already well-proven. Long-lived actinides can be “burned” in a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR), or a breeder reactor. They do not burn fast, but in this way, it is possible to convert the most problematic part of the waste from something that needs to be stored safely for tens of thousands of years to fission products that only need to be stored safely for about 300 years.

“Breeding is where you actually convert what’s called a fertile fuel—and thorium is one of these fertile fuels—you convert that into something which you can fission, and then you have to make sure that that process actually doesn’t stop—that it continues to create more and more new fuel,” Thomas Jam Pedersen, co-founder of Copenhagen Atomics, said as a guest on The POWER Podcast. “That’s what Copenhagen Atomics is trying to prove to the world—that it’s not merely something that you can show from physics that it’s possible, but you could actually also build it and make it work.”

The concept is not new. MSRs—a class of reactors that use liquid salt, usually fluoride- or chloride-based, as either a coolant with a solid fuel or as a combined coolant and fuel with the fuel dissolved in a carrier salt—underwent significant testing in the 1950s and 1960s at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. Subsequent design studies in the 1970s focusing on thermal-spectrum thorium-fueled systems established reference concepts for two major design variants, one of which was a molten salt breeder reactor with multiple configurations that could breed additional fissile material or maintain self-sustaining operation.

One reason the testing stopped was because thorium is not well-suited for making nuclear weapons, so the military was not interested in investing in the technology. “It was, from the very get-go, far behind the investments in the uranium fuel cycle, and therefore, most people were educated in the uranium fuel cycle,” Pedersen said.

In the late 2000s, that changed, because documents from the ORNL testing were released to the public. “People started to discover, ‘Oh, there’s actually something here that is quite exciting.’ Because thorium is the only element where you can make breeder cycle, or breeder reactor, in thermal spectrum, and thermal spectrum is sort of, you can say, the easy reactors to build,” Pedersen explained.

Molten salt is an important part of the process because it allows fission products to be removed from the reactor during operation. In the past, corrosion was a serious problem when using molten salt, but with today’s advanced materials, it’s less of a concern and less expensive to control. “Back in the day, there was not that much material science, and it was difficult to make the salt clean enough that you could minimize the corrosion,” said Pedersen. “I think this is where we’ve gotten a step ahead now with modern technology.”

Copenhagen Atomics’ goal is to have a 100-MWth (roughly 45-MWe) reactor unit available commercially by 2028. Units are expected to be built in a factory, using an assembly-line process, and will be roughly the size of a standard shipping container, which will allow them to be delivered easily to plant construction sites around the world. Customers would be able to install multiple units at a site to effectively create almost any size plant.

“One of the problems with classical reactors is that they’re usually really, really big and built onsite, and are quite expensive, and take many years to build,” Pedersen said. “We started this company because we want to change that. We want to be able to deploy these reactors much faster. Our ambition is to build more than one every day.”

The company expects to have a non-fission prototype unit ready for operation next year. “We will be able to test it—it’s a one-to-one scale model of the reactor—we will not be able to run fission inside, but we can start it up and we can pump the salt around and we can test all the systems—see that it’s working,” Pedersen said. Copenhagen Atomics is targeting 2025 to have a fully functioning demonstration reactor in operation.

One additional advantage of the MSR is that molten salt is a great energy storage medium, so Pedersen said he envisions storage tanks at plant sites that will allow units to operate as baseload units, even in a renewable-filled market. “We plan to put all the output energy into that tank when, say, the wind is blowing. And then when the wind is not blowing, then you can both take the power from the reactor and you can take some of the additional power from those storage tanks.”

The cost? “I think it’ll be a much cheaper energy form than classical nuclear reactors, and I think we can even compete with some of the cheapest forms of wind power or solar power,” said Pedersen. Furthermore, the thorium-fueled units will be dispatchable. “We can supply energy 24/7, and therefore, the value of our energy source is higher in the grid than it would be if you buy the same electricity from solar.”

https://www.powermag.com/thorium-fueled-reactors-offer-huge-potential-benefits-for-the-nuclear-power-industry/?oly_enc_id=1249D9862912F8V

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#1

Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/11/2021 3:46 PM

A big advantage of thorium is you can't make bombs out of it!

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#2

Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 2:30 AM

Three hundred years of storage is a long time. How many tons will be stored at the end of three hundred years when it can be released based on the projected use of the plants? How many pounds of waste per Megawatt hour?

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#3
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 9:58 AM

"How many pounds of waste per Megawatt hour?"

You just keep adding small amounts of fuel...there is no waste...

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#5
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 10:34 AM

What about this? "They do not burn fast, but in this way, it is possible to convert the most problematic part of the waste from something that needs to be stored safely for tens of thousands of years to fission products that only need to be stored safely for about 300 years."

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#6
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 11:30 AM

Breeder reactor types can be used to burn plutonium and other long lived actinides in what's called reprocessing....this is a slightly different design...

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#4

Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 10:24 AM

Just last evening I sent the following to my local newspaper. I'm thinking a fast spectrum of neutrons, instead of a thermal spectrum, because it is so much better. The first part is certainly a current topic, just not this one. The last part is on-topic except I am advocating a fast spectrum of neutrons.

Editor, I hope all have read the article on page 7A, which was introduced on page 1A, of the November 10 edition. Global warming affects all of us, and may be a death sentence to our descendants and to the planet earth as we know it! But the politicians seem to be afraid to commit to what really needs to be done, maybe because they are thinking of the next election and not thinking as citizens of this planet. It is evident to me that electricity generation by combustion processes must cease. That means none, zero, and we can't generate electricity that way any more. Solar, wind, hydro, and other renewable methods of producing electricity are neat, but they take up large areas of land, meaning that their installation will be vetoed by the people--this is NIMBY at work (Not In My Back Yard.) In addition, renewables are not able to supply the vast amount of electrical power that our society wants. Eliminating the coal, oil, and natural gas combustion processes from electrical energy supply will make many people quite unhappy, but the whole Earth needs that sacrifice whether the Glasgow leaders can agree to it or not. That means all affected workers must immediately start training for another occupation; that training might be in the field of another fuel type since our "conventional" fuels must be eliminated. It looks to me that the other fuel type has to be nuclear, specifically fission since fusion is too far in the future. Concentrating on fission, it should use a "fast spectrum" of neutrons instead of the "thermal spectrum" that most of us are familiar with. Many people are concerned with nuclear waste; fast reactors will not eliminate this problem but will reduce the waste about 100 times by using for energy the highly radioactive elements that thermal reactors cannot utilize. In addition, fast reactors do not need to be pressurized like water-cooled thermal reactors, because water is not used in them.

Thermal reactors require uranium enriched in the isotope U235; the enrichment process leaves behind large quantities of another isotope, U238. Due to past enrichment activities, we have large amounts of U238 on hand. We also have lots of thorium, which is another element. Both can be fuel in a fast reactor.

Many think of nuclear reactors as humongous buildings that are capable of generating multi-gigawatts of electricity for distribution to where it is needed. A much smaller type, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs,) are being developed and are close to operational status. The SMRs can even be built in a factory, with the associated construction economies, then shipped ready to install and provide power for a local area or industry.

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 1:01 PM

Radiation exposure you encounter daily and from procedures related to required amount for lethal dose...

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/12/2021 1:18 PM
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#10
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/18/2021 1:15 PM

As usual, no mention as to how many pounds of spent rods per mega hour is listed.

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/18/2021 11:30 AM
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/18/2021 1:17 PM

As usual, no mention as to how many pounds of spent rods per megawatt hour is listed.

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/18/2021 7:04 PM

"How much high-level radioactive waste does an average 1000 megawatt nuclear power station produce every year?

The generation of electricity from a typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear power station, which would supply the needs of more than a million people, produces only three cubic metres of vitrified high-level waste per year, if the used fuel is recycled."

On average, the waste from a nuclear reactor supplying a person’s electricity needs for a whole year, would only contain about 5 grams of this is high-level waste – about the same weight as a sheet of paper.

https://world-nuclear.org/nuclear-essentials/what-is-nuclear-waste-and-what-do-we-do-with-it.aspx

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#13
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/19/2021 10:12 PM

So that would be for 1 MW for one year = 0.003 cubic meters..

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/20/2021 4:44 AM

3 cubic metersx330000000 people /1000000=990 cubic meters per year which is a 32.7 ft x 32.7 ft x 32.7 ft box of the most dangerous stuff on the planet. Every year another "box" is added for this country. And more boxes are added for other countries. And they are to be protected by humans for 50000 years? 300 years?. People cannot be trusted to safely store this stuff over the time periods required for it to be safe. These "boxes" can be opened by complacency, sharians, natural disasters and unknow future causes.

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/20/2021 1:48 PM

It's not dangerous if it's properly stored and maintained...and it is....If it's stored in a remote location, it is even less dangerous....You do realize that uranium exists naturally in the environment, that it is mined from the Earth, and that we are exposed to radiation every day, in fact the proper dose of radiation is healthy for humans....You are much more likely to to be killed by a coconut falling from a tree and hitting you on the head, than from exposure to radiation....and I bet you don't wear a hardhat around every day....

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/20/2021 2:09 PM

If the "coconut" falls on me without a hard hat and kills me it's more minor that a "coconut" that falls on the stored spent rods and kills the multitudes. The breaking apart of the stored spent rods can happen and will happen. Just keep doing research on achieving safe waste before using nuclear power. There are alternatives.

Oh, a small dose of radiation that is healthy is certainly OK. But what you get from ruptured spent rod containers isn't very healthy!!!

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/21/2021 2:55 PM

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/22/2021 12:00 AM

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/22/2021 6:49 AM

In summary, we can die a slow death due to global warming or have a quick death due to premature opening of the spent rod containers.

Once there's a nuclear power generator that has no long term (20 years) highly radioactive waste, then, nuclear is the way to go. Research in obtaining this goal is what we need now-not nuclear power plants that produce long term (greater than 20 years) highly radioactive spent rods.

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#20
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/22/2021 2:12 PM

No, we have the technology to burn the waste, we just have to build the reactors...

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#21
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/22/2021 4:12 PM

Still, no mention of the waste from the recycled spent rods being used. If there was zero waste, they would have mentioned it. Nuclear power reports always slid over the waste problem.

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#22
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 8:03 AM

There is no such thing as zero waste from any type of energy production....

..." the total volume of nuclear waste produced worldwide since WWII is the same as the volume of toxic chemical waste produced by the coal industry worldwide every hour."

Think about that for a minute, and you will see that your goal is not realistic, still reprocessing can reduce waste from nuclear power by perhaps 90%, excluding parts irradiated that must be replaced over the life of the reactor...

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 8:16 AM

Nuclear waste and coal waste are not the same and don't impose equal threats.

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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 8:51 AM

Certainly they don't, the coal waste is not fully contained....the shear volume of coal ash is overwhelming...

"Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air." Jan 25, 2021

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/coal-other-dark-side-toxic-ash

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#25
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 3:25 PM

Did you know that there is thorium and uranium in coal waste? When the coal is burned to make electricity for us to use, both thorium and uranium are liberated into the environment. I understand the amounts are 7 TONS of thorium and 5 TONS of uranium per gigawatt per year.

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#26
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 6:42 PM

Is it as radioactive as the spent rods? Do people get sick or die from the coal waste?

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#27
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/23/2021 8:04 PM

How many deaths are caused by coal?

"They found that worldwide, more than one million deaths were attributable to the burning of fossil fuels in 2017. More than half of those deaths were attributable to coal. Findings and access to their data, which have been made public, were published today in the journal Nature Communications." Jun 14, 2021

More people die from coal every year than was ever killed from nuclear bombs ....nuclear waste has never killed anybody to my knowledge...

https://source.wustl.edu/2021/06/new-research-finds-1m-deaths-in-2017-attributable-to-fossil-fuel-combustion/

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#28
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/24/2021 2:52 AM

How many deaths attributable to the radioactivity of the coal waste.

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#29
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Re: Thorium-Fueled Reactors Offer Huge Potential Benefits for the Nuclear Power Industry

11/24/2021 7:39 AM

None....

It's the fear of radiation that is killing people....

..."We are permitting tens of thousands of real people to die needlessly each year because some people fear that the alternative might pose a hazard to hypothetical people from postulated events that have never happened. The real people are dying from food poisoning, from inhaling particulate matter from coal-fired power plants, from avoiding mammograms, x-rays, MRIs, and other life-saving technologies, from unwillingness to use smoke-detectors containing radioactivity, and many other such fears. In addition, the planet is threatened by global warming, acid rain, smog, toxic runoff, and shortages of drinking water. Use of nuclear technologies could ameliorate all these problems, but many people are afraid because we have told them that even the tiniest amounts of radiation are hazardous. This is simply not true, and we should start saying so. In fact, there is considerable evidence that therapeutic doses of low-level ionizing radiation would be beneficial for most people."...

https://atomicinsights.com/fear-of-radiation-is-killing-people-and-endangering-the-planet-too/

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